Yes people it’s that time of year when people reflect on the year almost gone. I could bore you with details of my year (it has been exceptionally good), but I wont. Instead I wanted to ask you to reflect on how far you and your children have come in this last year.
I know of one family whose year has been exceptional. Since January 2012 they have had an official diagnosis of Autism for each of their three boys. They have found an excellent special school that has accepted the two oldest (6 & 5yrs) they also have a specialist nursery for the youngest; he will be starting there next year. Since the oldest boys have been at the school their achievements have been remarkable. The oldest is now writing independently and there are signs of reading too (he made no0 progress in reading or writing for a year in mainstream), the second child is becoming more vocal and uses makaton a lot more too. Although all of this is fantastic the story doesn’t end there. To enable the boys to go to this wonderful school they have had to move house; 4 days before Christmas! But despite the autism (between them the boys cover the whole spectrum of difficulties) they all coped well with the disruption of the move.
Yet the story continues to develop. Mum has had heart health issues this year and dad has undergone a kidney transplant due to a progressive kidney disease that was slowly killing him, thankfully the transplant has, so far, been successful although there were times of worry. Mum is looking to get her own diagnosis of Autism too. The youngest of the boys also has chronic lung disease which can cause fitting and projectile vomiting on a fairly regular basis, and the middle child sleeps for around 4 hours a night. Each child has his own obsessions; sharks, dinosaurs and peppa pig.
Now this story may seem extreme, but all of it is true. My reason for telling you is to help those families out there who do not have Autism in their lives understand the complexities of life that autism can bring, regular visits to the hospital for assessments, and blood tests, visits with dieticians, behavioural support, educational psychologists and the inevitable trips to the GP. For families with autism their lives are very different. Nothing can be taken for granted, every outing needs to planned to cause the least disruption, every meal is planned around what the children will and can eat, medication needs to be considered, even toileting and personal care is a concern for some parents even as their child is way past the ‘normal’ toilet training stage. Live can be very difficult, but it is never boring.
The small improvements your child makes are so important, treasure them and don’t worry about regression or transferring skills. Stay positive look for the improvements. Celebrate achievements and accept your children just the way they are. Every child is special, and some are more special than others.
Have a great 2013, and look back at how far you’ve come in 2012.
As we watch Christmas films and cookery programmes we are constantly remined of the traditions of Christmas. I don’t think that as an adult I have followed many of the traditions of Christmas, especially the ones I don’t like. This has not made my Christmases with my small family any less enjoyable and we have played a part in following our own traditions. We get to open one present on Christmas eve before going to bed, on Christmas day we have no TV, internet or mobiles on until after our meal, we have a strange pudding called Heavenly Hash as no one likes Christmas pudding or trifle.
So the final point to make before the big day is to enjoy it your way, not the way other people expect you to. The best tradition to follow is the one that works for you and your immediate family.
Enjoy yorselves and I’ll be back with a New Year message next week.
As you all know routines are very important to your children. So it is important to them that their normal daily routines are not disrupted too much. If your child is at school you will already be aware of how the holidays can affect them, and at this time of year so many other things change too. With Christmas day being so close to the end of term your child may find the whole experience too much. To support your child at this time
• Try to keep the changes to a minimum and explain as much as you can before hand.
• Use a visual timetable to help remind your child of the events and more importantly show them how normal routines will fit into the schedule.
• Allow time each day where one thing is always constant; morning routines, bath time routines, bed time routines.
• Know your child’s triggers and prepare for those you cannot avoid
• Keep your child involved in the events as much as possible but always allow them time to go off to be on their own when it is needed
• Inform visitors of the strategies in place
Talking of visitors, if you have a lot of visitors all descending on you for the big day, or any big day, then make sure they understand that your child may not co-operate or behave as they usually do.
• Your child may be more interested in the box or the paper or the tree than in the gifts.
• The gifts may not even be looked at during the day; this is not a personal insult.
• The child may take all of the gifts to his room and stack them up to play with and explore later.
• Thanking guests for gifts may not happen; again this is not a personal attack.
• Not interacting is also a common feature. Make sure your guests do not try to force interaction.
Then there is the Christmas dinner. Traditionally Christmas dinner is served at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon (I never understood why). This can be a big change to routine. The actual food on your child’s plate may be different and where they sit at the table may need to change. All of these things can be the cause of a meltdown and can easily be avoided.
• Allow your child to eat their meal at the usual time
• Give your child his usual lunch
• During the main meal he can be alone with his thoughts and autism; it can be a good time to readjust to the changes in a clam environment.
Christmas should be a time of fun and memories. Don’t allow tradition to create a time of stress and fear. Make Christmas your way, what ever suits your family best. On Christmas Day I will be having a normal day. I am eating a Christmas dinner of roast pork and roast lamb on Christmas Eve. We will open presents on Christmas Day night and no doubt be walking the dogs during the Queen’s speech. I do not have anyone with Autism in my family, but we adjust the day to suit our needs and there is no reason why you shouldn’t do the same.
Enjoy your Christmas everyone.
At this time of year the decorations can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the needs and environmental sensitivities of your child.
One of the easiest ways to overcome the problems that can be caused by massive change in their living environment is to involve the child in the decorating of the room. Explain what you are doing and why and encourage your child to help. If you have a real tree then remember that the scent of the room will also change and this can be an added distraction or cause for confusion. Allow plenty of time for your child to decorate the tree their way, they may be very particular about the order of the baubles or tinsel or the lights, or they may prefer to have all of the decorations in one space rather than all over, either way is fine. By allowing the child to decorate the tree they will be more accepting of it. The same applies to all of the decorations you may have in your home, both inside and out. In most cases it is not a good idea to decorate your child’s bedroom, especially if they are not a good sleeper as they may find the changes too much and may need a space to chill out during the hectic season.
The blessing of decorations comes into play if your child needs overstimulation to settle. If they enjoy sensory rooms then having twinkling lights, colours and interesting smells then the introduction of all of these into the living room can have a very calming affect. Although the problems may occur when the decorations are taken down!
If you child is anxious about change and find the concept of presents daunting and upsetting. There are two options. Option one, buy the presents and wrap them together. This will reduce the anxiety as your child knows what to expect and they will also know that there are no surprises lurking under the tree. Option two is to not put any presents under the tree. If there are no expectations then there should be no anxiety.
What ever you choose to do, think about your child’s needs are they hyper or hypo sensitive to changes, smells, lights, colours and sounds. I would recommend decorating your home during this time, but do it in line with your child’s needs even if that means one very small tree in a very inconspicuous space or lots of lights, smells, and the biggest tree you can find. Every child is different and every child should be able to enjoy this season as they want/need to.
Merry Christmas everyone
As you will know if you have a child on the Autistic Spectrum, change and disruption to routines can be very difficult. If your child attends a mainstream school you may also be aware of the changes to daily activities and structure during the run up to Christmas. This can result in a change to your child’s behaviour while at school or at home. There are a few tips that can help though
1. Nativity play. – Ensure you have as much detail as possible of the changes to the routines in regard of school play rehearsals and performances. Also ask about costumes especially if your child is hypersensitive to fabrics. Armed with this information you will be better placed to support your child through the changes.
2. Making cards and gifts. – During the run up to Christmas it may be expected that all children make a card and possibly a calendar or other gift for parents, but that they will be kept in the school until the last day of term. Sorry if this has come as a surprise to many of you. If your child is impulsive and needs to have instant gratification then this again can cause problems for the school. Discuss this with the class teacher and ensure your child is able to bring home his creations as soon as possible.
3. Christmas lunch. – This one isn’t usually too much of a problem as many children are given the option to opt out of having a school Christmas lunch, although there are associated difficulties. If your child usually has a hot dinner provided by the school then the day of the Christmas dinner may make the dinner hall noisier than usual, or if your child usually has a packed lunch in a different hall with other children who are not there due to having a hot dinner that day. Again discuss with the teacher so that you can prepare your child in advance.
4. Christmas party. – Most children find this day exhausting and full of fun. They see little structure (although it is there) and their behaviours can be over ruled by impulse. Add to this mix a little spice of Autism and there can be all sorts of wonderful results. On party day the uniform (if your child usually wears one) may not be required. This in its self can be difficult for some children with rigidity of thought. Or they may be required to attend in uniform and change into party clothes later. Then there is the party, there may be food, there will be noise, there may be games, there will be noise, they may seem to be little structure and there will be noise. So on this day it may be important that your child knows that there will be a safe/quiet place to go to, and that his TA will always be available during the party.
5. Last day. – Last day of term is unlike any other day at main stream school. Teachers clearing the decorations away, few if any structured session times, could be non uniform day, TA’s busy filing work and preparing for the next term, wall displays are being removed, art work is being organised to be sent home and the children may have restricted access to some areas they are used to going into. There may be as film playing that you child may be interested in, but other children will be making a noise and maybe wandering around causing disruption to your child’s viewing. Your child may not be interested in the film and be the child who is annoying others.
There are many things that can cause a meltdown at this time of year, but don’t let that stop you celebrating it your way, inform the school of any concerns you have, so that you can help prepare your child to be able to enjoy the festivities as much as possible.
Each week through December I will be blogging about a different aspect of the holiday season.